I’ll admit that I’m the last person to be reviewing a tactical RPG, what with my complete aversion to the genre up until this time. I always had trouble figuring out what was going on. I’ve played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons and so I assumed I’d be informed enough to proceed, but it would only get me so far. I scoff at the current day veteran gamers who complain about too many buttons on a controller when there still exists thing like Shadowrun and World of Warcraft where almost the entire keyboard has functionality. There’s so much information to have to take in on screen at all times and clicking to move a character always felt like I wasn’t truly in control. To put it bluntly: I’m a noob. Allow this precursor to explain the rampant naïveté and starve off any desires to flame my opinions. In the end, a review’s purpose is based on a bias of the reviewer and their outlook on a game as whole isn’t fully dependent on their gaming history. So was Shadowrun: Dragonfall a game that held up to somebody who isn’t already loyal to the series or genre? I guess that’s the target of this whole article.
Shadowrun: Dragonfall by Harebrained Schemes doesn’t take it’s time to offer you a slew of options to mold your character’s class and personality even down to the personality of your speech. Sure, I have high intellect, but is it true learnedness, or street smarts? Would I be able to bluff my way out of a scenario, or intimidate others into letting me by? This touch gives your character and their responses more charm and possibilities than other games I’ve played. It’s a shame that the physical attributes you may assign are limited to a preset of possibilities. At least, that was the case for my Elf Summoner. Although, after leaving the character customization screen, the cosmetic attributes didn’t feel so intrusive as the dialogue picks right up and it beautifully written to where I felt like my character was fully realized regardless of how they looked. The writing keeps you interested in what may happen next and it’s that which makes the gameplay tolerable.
On it’s own, the turn-based and cover-based system doesn’t hold much ground. Accuracy is alway an issue even when turned down to the easiest setting in the first battle. While it’s a great system theoretically for dividing tactics in combat, my team couldn’t seem to hit a bullseye if it was crumpled up and stuffed down the barrel of their gun. While I chose throwing knives (because I’m cool, and cool guys bring knives to a gunfight,) my entire team was wielding heavy artillery. Burst fire rifles, SMGS, accuracy improving handguns all lined the inventory of my squad mates and yet, they had below half accuracy even when only a few squares away regardless of enemy cover. I don’t know, maybe someone planted the wrong seed when growing their skill tree, but I could have sworn that was the whole point of using a gun in the first place. Most of my fights involved me either spamming special abilities to aid my horrible accuracy or having to run away. Fleeing does not make a badass and yet pushing forth tooth and nail usually ended up with my body splattered across the wall (only because it was aiming for the floor.)
I also had trouble figuring out how the game defined being “flanked.” As previously stated, I’ve played a lot of D&D and I’m quite familiar with the term, yet there would be times when is be taking extra “flanked” damage when there were only two enemies standing twenty feet in front of me. Sure, the game offers an atlas and half’s worth of tutorials to read through, but shouldn’t there be some sort of consistency with an already common term? The mechanics as a whole were frustrating and unclear as to what I was doing wrong and I didn’t learn anything after each defeat. I simply had to start from the very beginning. Mind you, this was after I had turned the difficulty to its minimum setting. Luckily, there were some areas that broke up the heavy combat: jacking in.
Jacking in, after I figured out what the hell that meant and what the hell the game wanted me to do, was an interesting aside from the combat heavy format. A character is able to transfer a digital version of themselves and travel through a virtual world to collect intel. While it still uses the combat system, even having enemies present and turn-based moves, the move pool is drastically simplified and the enemies are a bit easier to takedown. These sections aren’t very long, but it’s nice to feel competent every now and then so they are a welcomed diversion.
Shadowrun: Dragonfal Director’s Cut has a lot to offer for those interested in the play style. It’s shortcomings, however, seem to counteract its achievements every step of the way. It has beautifully painted background and an well-written narrative, but the characters themselves are generic looking and your cosmetic choices are quite limited. The combat is overwhelming and unclear at times, but, subjectively, that’s my burden from needing my hand held while venturing outside my comfort zone. I’m sure veterans will have no problem.